Activating Your DRIED Sourdough Starter
Reviving a dried sourdough starter is a fairly simple matter that should meet with success almost all the time. This video covers the details but I’ll jot down a few steps here so you don’t necessarily have to. IMPORTANT: If you don’t think you have a lively starter within 2 or 3 days after starting these steps, make sure the starter is not runny. This is explained in the video. Please watch the video, paying particular attention to the discussion of starter consistency.
Day 1: In a pinch bowl, soak 1 ½ teaspoons dried starter in 1 tablespoon lukewarm purified or spring water for a few minutes to soften. Then stir in 1 tablespoon all-purpose or bread flour, cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
Day 2: To the above mix, stir in 1 tablespoon of flour and 2 teaspoons of water and let it continue to sit covered as before for another 24 hours.
Day 3: Stir in 1 more tablespoon of flour and just 1 teaspoon of water this time. Within the next 12 to 24 hours you will likely start to see some bubbling action of fermentation. The warmer the room, the faster the activation.
Now transfer your activated starter to a jar with plenty of extra space for expansion, and stir in 1/3 cup flour and 1/4 cup of water. Mark the level on the jar with a rubber band. Within about 12 hours you should have a lively, spongy starter.
Continue to build the starter with once or twice daily feedings until you have a sufficient quantity to use for baking. You may double or triple the quantity of starter with each feeding. Feeding with approximately equal weights of flour and water (vs. equal volumes) will result in a good starter consistency.
What’s next? It’s easy to maintain a healthy starter indefinitely, but there’s a bit more to know. See Managing Your Sourdough Starter below.
Managing Your Sourdough Starter
Once you have a viable sourdough culture, please know that it really isn’t a big deal to keep it alive and healthy. A good starter is naturally very hearty and robust. At a minimum, all you have to do is mix in some flour and water once in a while to keep it alive during periods when you’re baking infrequently. To keep it near optimum health, feed it once a week or so and keep it refrigerated. Watch this video and read the following points and you’ll know everything necessary to succeed.
If you’re baking regularly, say weekly or bi-weekly, it’s easy enough just to feed it after using the amount called for in your recipe before returning it to your refrigerator. If you really want to be sure your starter is in optimum shape, feed it once or twice the day before baking or the two days prior to baking day. In addition, here are a few points that are worth noting…
- When you feed your starter, feed it with approximately equal weights of flour and water. That equates to about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of water for every cup of flour.
- As a general rule of thumb, the amount you feed your sourdough starter depends on how much of it you have to start with. When practical, you want to approximately double the amount of starter you have each time you feed it. However, if you already have a couple cups of starter on hand and typically use much less in your recipe, it doesn’t make sense to have to double the existing two cups of starter. In this case just dispose of a cup or more of the starter and then double what remains. (You don’t really have to dispose of it – think sourdough waffles or pancakes, a good way to use a lot of starter quickly).
- A particularly useful tip for infrequent bakers is to try and keep a somewhat small portion of starter on hand so that you can feed it a few times in succession without ending up with a ton of it.
- If it has been a long time since you’ve fed your starter and you don’t plan on baking for a while, don’t feel like you have to go through a big rigamarole to keep it happy, just stir in a 1/2 cup of flour and about the same amount of water and forget about it. That will at least buy you some more time before you have to worry about it again.
- If you need a whole wheat or rye starter, it’s easy to convert your white flour starter by just a few successive feedings with the flour you want. You may have to adjust the water as some flours are thirstier than others.
- Be sure to store your starter in a container that’s not air tight. If you’re using a wire bail jar to store your starter, just don’t use the rubber gasket that comes with them.
- When you need to use your starter, you can use it straight from the fridge or let it come to room temp first if you want. If you use it straight from the fridge, it will just add a few hours to your dough proofing time.
- After you feed your starter, you can let it sit out for several hours before returning it to the fridge or put it in the fridge right after feeding it. It typically depends on when you plan on using it next. Even if you put it away right after feeding, you can always take it out again well before baking so it has a chance to rise and get spongy before use.
- If you really don’t think you’re going to use your starter at all for a very long time, (some people don’t bake during the summer months, for example), you could dry some starter and freeze it. It will store this way indefinitely. Then revive it in the fall.
I’m really belaboring this subject. Once you’ve played around with sourdough starters for a while and baked some with it, you’ll know all you need to know and develop a sense for what works best. If your bread is not rising as much as you think it should (you’re not getting the desired oven spring) then try what I said about feeding your starter a couple of times in the 12-24 hours before starting your recipe. A healthy starter rises well in its container and becomes bubbly and spongy after a good feeding. Spongy is the best word to describe what a starter should look like a few hours after feeding. If your starter rises well after feeding, there’s a good chance your bread will too. And vice versa.